10 Questions for Jane Wong
- By Emily Wojcik
I told the earth to settle back
down, to lay deep in its mud
armchair, to soften the static
from its flaring mouth.
Can we slow down, tender
those we miss? —from 'A Cosmology," from Volume 59, Issue 4 (Winter 2018)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
I can’t remember the storyline, but when I was in the fifth grade, I wrote a serial short story about a bus driver. I remember passing a new chapter to some friends in school and getting “caught” passing notes.
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
So many writers have influenced me over the years, but I keep coming back to Emily Dickinson and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. Dickinson writes in a letter to Higginson: “my little Force explodes.” She also calls herself “wayward.” These sentiments stay with me as a poet – this bewilderment, this intensity, this interiority. And with Cha, she was a major influence in my life as an Asian American artist. Her work is deeply emotional in terms of its interdisciplinary and hybrid form; she also spoke to me in terms of language loss, matrilineal connections, and the haunting power of intergenerational trauma.
What other professions have you worked in?
I’ve spent most of my professional life as a teacher and professor, but I’ve also worked as a copywriter, gallery assistant, etc. I’m a proud restaurant baby (and worked in my family’s Chinese American restaurant).
What did you want to be when you were young?
I wanted to be a cheesemonger or a food reviewer. And I wanted to be a writer. All of these can happen one day!
What inspired you to write this piece?
My grandparents and the deep layers of their histories. This poem is especially for my grandfather, my Gung Gung, who passed away in 2017.
Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
I strangely have to return to music I know very well, since new lyrics can distract me when writing. I’ve been returning to Tracy Chapman and Nina Simone.
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
Oh yes. I have so many rituals. One ritual is to wear a piece of my mother’s clothing when I write, especially if I’m writing a poem about her or in her voice. I have this tiger ring she gave me and sometimes I’ll wear that too. I always eat snacks when I write. And I always write cross-legged.
Who typically gets the first read of your work?
I have this long e-mail thread (many years in the making) with a few close poetry friends who are also Kundiman fellows. We call it “Cut and Paste” and we simply cut and paste new poems into this e-mail thread to read/share with each other. The idea is to know that someone is reading your work, but there’s no pressure for feedback or to add a disclaimer. I love this mode of sharing – akin to poetry gift-giving.
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I’d love to work in sculpture or ceramics. Making something with my hands would be so refreshing – tangibly felt.
What are you working on currently?
I am currently writing a series of creative nonfiction essays about my childhood (and growing up as the children of working-class immigrants). I’m also working on my solo exhibit at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, which will debut in June 2019; I’m incredibly excited to move poetry into different mediums.
JANE WONG'S poems can be found in Best American Poetry 2015, American Poetry Review, Third Coast, jubilat, and others. A Kundiman fellow, she is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from the U.S. Fulbright Program, the Fine Arts Work Center, Hedgebrook, and Bread Loaf. She is the author of Overpour (Action Books, 2016) and is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Western Washington University.